Shas upset by Labor's budget opposition

Labor will not support the 2008 state budget without making several changes to it, party chairman Ehud Barak announced on Thursday. The statement was intended to portray Barak as a socioeconomic leader and emphasize the differences between Labor and Kadima, which share the same policies on diplomatic and security issues. "I am the defense minister of the State of Israel and I know that we cannot have genuine security when our socioeconomic standing is not guaranteed," Barak said. "The Labor Party will be unable to support the budget without cancelling the freezing of stipends and the reduction in welfare payments." Barak said he was trying to change Finance Ministry decisions that harmed students, single mothers, the disabled and senior citizens. If the changes were not made, it would be a red line for Labor. Shas officials issued a statement bashing Barak. They accused him of violating a pledge made by the faction chairmen of Labor, Shas, Israel Beiteinu and the Pensioners Party to cooperate behind the scenes to persuade the Treasury to change the budget. "We promised each other that none of us would harm our joint effort by running to the press to gain political capital," a Shas spokesman said. "Barak broke the promise when he went behind the back of his own faction chairman to score points with cheap political spin." Barak's associates called the Shas reaction "chutzpah." They said that Barak's demands only reinforced the joint efforts of the factions and that Shas did not have a monopoly on socioeconomic issues. Deliberations on the budget begin next week in the Knesset, ahead of the December 31 deadline for passing it.